Friday, August 16, 2013

Philosophy of Bizarro World, Bircher edition

I'm reading Claire Conner's memoir of growing up as the daughter of a key John Birch Society leader, Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America's Radical Right (2013). It's a kind of conversion narrative of how she came to understand and reject the Bircher brand of politics and conspiracy-mongering with which she was raised.

In the book, she gives a good example of what I've called the double-reverse thinking of the far right. "Double-reverse" isn't quite adequate, but that's what I use. It's probably more like infinite regression of projections and images of The Enemy embedded in other images of The Enemy.

The Enemy for the John Birch Society has always been The Communists, and behind them the New World Order conspiracy of the Illuminati, who they try to avoid calling "the Jews" in public. They picked up crackpot ideas from a rich pool in American politics going at least back to the Anti-Masonic Party, who formed during Andrew Jackson's time and who very much opposed him as President. Jacks actually was a Mason, though the Masons were never the super powered super conspirators the Birchers and other far right extremists imagined that they were. In Bircher fantasy land, the Masons still figure among the World Communist Conspiracy.

Conner gives this example from Robert Welch, the main founder and first leader of the John Birch Society:

Here, I'll let Welch speak for himself: "Although our danger remains almost entirely internal, from Communist influences right in our midst and treason right in our government, the American people are being persuaded that our danger is from the outside, from Russian military superiority. And under the excuse of preparing to match that military might, of defending ourselves from this threat of outside force ... we are being stampeded into the biggest jump ever toward, and perhaps the final jump right into socialism and then the Communist camp."

Thus, the conspiracy is tricking us into "greatly expanded government spending for missiles, for so-called defense generally," while "hammering into the American consciousness the horror of modern warfare, the beauties and the absolute necessity of peace - peace always on Communist terms."

The goal of all of this: to "make us domestically a communized nation" and "pull us right into the world-wide Communist organizations, ruled by the Kremlin."

Think of it this way: our government does anti-Communist things that are really pro-Communist, but we the people think they're anti-Communist because the pro-Communists in the government said so. So, military spending is just what the Communists want us to do and nuclear war is not nearly as bad as the Commies say.
This kind of thinking is at the core of the kind of isolationism advocated by Ron "Papa Doc" and Rand "Baby Doc" Paul. It may sometimes appear to be dovish or anti-militarist, e.g., "the conspiracy is tricking us into 'greatly expanded government spending for missiles, for so-called defense generally.'"

But at the same time, they were xenophobic and ultra-hawkish, thinking the whole idea of "peace" sounded dangerously Communist and putting quite a bit of effort into minimizing the damage that a full-blown nuclear war between the two superpowers would do.

I've never encountered an entirely satisfactory psychological explanation of this particular brand of mental athletics. It makes me feel like my brain is bending when I try to process an argument like the one Conner quotes Welch as making.

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